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THE RURAL SCHOOL COMMUNITY CENTER
By L. J. Hanifan, A.M.
State Supervisor of Rural Schools, Charleston, W. Va.
In the use of the phrase social capital I make no reference to
the usual acceptation of the term capital, except in a figurative sense.
I do not refer to real estate, or to personal property or to cold cash,
but rather to that in life which tends to make these tangible sub-
stances count for most in the daily lives of a people, namely, good-
will, fellowship, mutual sympathy and social intercourse among a
group of individuals and families who make up a social unit, the rural
community, whose logical center is the school. In community build-
ing as in business organization and expansion there must be an ac-
cumulation of capital before constructive work can be done. In
building up a large business enterprise of modern proportions, there
must first be an accumulation of capital from a large number of indi-
viduals. When the financial resources of these several individuals
have been brought together under effective organization and skilful
management, they take the form of a business corporation whose
purpose is to produce an article of consumption — steel, copper,
bread, clothing — or to provide personal conveniences — transporta-
tion, electricity, thoroughfares. The people benefit by having
such products and conveniences available for their daily needs,
while the capitalists benefit from the profits reserved to themselves
as compensation for their services to society.
Now, we may easily pass from the business corporation over
to the social corporation, the community, and find many points
of similarity. The individual is helpless socially, if left entirely
to himself. Even the association of the members of one's own fam-
ily fails to satisfy that desire which every normal individual has
of being with his fellows, of being a part of a larger group than the
family. If he may come into contact with his neighbor, and they
with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital,
which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may
bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement
of living conditions in the whole community. The community
Rural School Community Center 131
as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the
individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help,
the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors. First, then,
there must be an accumulation of community social capital. Such
accumulation may be effected by means of public entertainments,
"sociables," picnics and a variety of other community gatherings.
When the people of a given community have become acquainted
with one another and have formed a habit of coming together
upon occasions for entertainment, social intercourse and personal
enjoyment, that is, when sufficient social capital has been accum-
ulated, then by skilful leadership this social capital may easily be
directed towards the general improvement of the community well-
That there is today almost a total lack of such social capital
in rural districts throughout the country need not be retold in this
article. Everybody who has made either careful study or close
observations of country life conditions knows that to be true. Of
rural social surveys there have perhaps been a plenty for the pres-
ent. The important question now is, "How may these conditions
be made better?"
A Story of Achievement
The story which follows is a concrete example of how a rural
community of West Virginia in a single year actually developed
social capital and then used this capital in the general improve-
ment of its recreational, intellectual, moral and economic condi-
tions. The community under discussion is a rural school district
of 33 square miles, which embraces fifteen school communities,
or neighborhoods. Three of these school communities are vil-
lages having graded schools; the other twelve are strictly rural,
having one-teacher schools. The total population of the whole
district is 2,180, of whom 771 are of school age, 6-21 years.
The school organization consisted of a board of education (three
members and a secretary), a district supervisor and twenty-three
This district supervisor, Mr. Lloyd T. Tustin of Hundred,
West Virginia, was a new man in the district, coming from an ad-
joining county. He came into the district two weeks before the
date set by the board of education for the opening of the schools.
132 The Annals of the Amekican Academy
He spent these two weeks going about the district, conferring with
the local trustees, getting acquainted with the people, and having
the schoolhouses put in order for the beginning of the school term.
On the Saturday before the Monday on which the schools were to
begin he held his first teachers' meeting. The board of education
were present. At this first meeting definite plans were made for
the year's work. Among the plans made the following are some
that were carried through to successful conclusions:
(1) Community Survey. — Each teacher made a survey of her
school community, (a) to determine the physical and human re-
sources of the people; (b) to learn the crop yield of the farms; and
(c) to find what children in the community were not attending the
schools and the reasons why they were not at school. These
individual surveys were brought together and tabulated as a survey
of the whole district. It was shown, for example, that of the 457
families 401 were taking at least one newspaper. One item of
interest was the fact that there were in the district 331 dogs and
445 cats. These items were turned to very practical account as
an argument with the people for a district high school, for it could
be shown that if each dog and each cat cost their owners one cent
a day for food, then the people were spending upon these animals
an amount which, added to what the district may receive from the
state as high school aid, would support a high school for their boys
and girls. Of course, there was no disposition upon the part of
anyone to have all the dogs and cats killed. The fact was merely
used to emphasize the small cost of maintaining a local high school.
While the high school has not yet been provided, there is very
strong probability that it will be established soon.
(2) Community Center Meetings. — This survey work proved
to be of incalculable value to the teacher both in her regular school
work and in her work for the community center. She was able to
learn at first hand the home life of her pupils and she was able to
become acquainted with their parents. Her work among the
homes aroused the interest of the patrons of the school, for no
teacher had ever shown so much interest in them before. When
she announced that there would be a meeting at the schoolhouse
for all the citizens, nearly all were interested and most of them
In order to show just what the nature of this first meeting
Rural School Community Center 133
was, I submit below the program which was offered at one of the
Song, led by the school choir.
Address, by the teacher.
Reading, by a pupil.
Current Events, by a pupil.
Essay, by a pupil.
Song, led by the school choir.
Reading, by a pupil.
Vocal Solo, by a local soloist.
Reading, by a pupil.
Cornet solo, by a citizen.
Note that this first program was rendered almost wholly by
the pupils. The teacher took occasion to speak of the work of the
school and to show some of the possibilities of such meetings.
The people enjoyed this program and expressed a desire for another
meeting soon. The next program at this same schoolhouse was
primarily for the older folks. It was entitled, "Ye Old Time
School Days." These older citizens took great delight in relating
the school experiences of their day, and the children were inter-
ested listeners. As time went on the weekly community center
meeting was becoming more and more a feature of the regular
community activities — in fact the only cooperative activity of the
community. In due time, when some social capital had been
developed, these meetings occasionally took the form of discussions
of problems of a constructive nature. The people discussed such
Should West Virginia have a more effective compulsory attendance law?
Should there be a small tax on oil and gas for the support of schools and
Is it more profitable to grow hogs than to grow cattle in this community?
Do boys and girls have better opportunities in the city than in the country?
But entertainment and discussion alone will not hold the
interest of a community indefinitely. A definite purpose common
to all must become the reason of this coming together. Fortunately,
the community under discussion soon passed through the stages of
entertainment and discussion to the stage of action. The people
134 The Annals of the American Academy
themselves under the leadership of their supervisor and teachers
began to look about them for something which they might do
towards personal and community improvement. The social capital
developed by means of the community center meetings was about
to pay dividends.
(3) Agricultural Fair and School Exhibit. — The first
big meeting of the year was the agricultural fair and school exhibit,
which brought together the people of the whole school district.
The local community center meetings gave the supervisor and the
teachers an opportunity to explain the purpose and the plans of
this undertaking. In October, two months after the opening of the
schools, this fair and exhibit was held at the most central school-
house in the district. The people came in large numbers. They
brought baskets of food and had a community "spread." Prizes
were awarded for the best products of the farm and the kitchen and
for the best work exhibited by the schools. It was a great day to
everyone present. It was the " pooling" of social capital developed
in the local community centers, the first meeting of the people of
the whole district ever held up to that time.
(4) Community History. — At each school the pupils of the
classes in United States and State History wrote up the history
of their local community — who the first settlers were and when
they came, when the first church was built and when any others
were built, when and where the first schoolhouse was built and
important changes made in the schools since then, who had first
introduced improved live stock, the silo, farm machinery and other
items of local historical interest. This work, of course, was under
the direction of the teachers. When the histories had been pre-
pared, the children of each school gave a program entitled, "History
Evening," when the community history was read by the pupils
who had written it. This proved to be a very popular program,
since most of the citizens or their ancestors were personally men-
tioned. It had a marked effect upon the pride of the people in
their home community. After these programs had been rendered,
the several histories of the local communities were compiled into a
history of the whole school district.
(5) School Attendance. — It will be recalled that one object
of the community survey was to determine what children were not
attending the schools. While visiting the homes upon that occa-
Rural School Community Centeb 135
sion the teachers were able to interest a good many absentees in
going to school, or to persuade their parents to send them. Sub-
sequent visits by the teachers at the homes brought most of the
children into the schools. Then at the community center meetings,
the subject of school attendance was discussed from time to time
as a part of the programs. By means of this personal work of the
teachers in the homes and of the discussions at the community
meetings the percentage of average daily attendance was actually
increased by 14 per cent over that of the preceding year. This
increased attendance was accomplished without resort to the courts
in a single case. The parents came to realize that the schools cost
them the same whether their children attended them or not. They
came also to see more clearly than ever before what the schools
meant to the future welfare of their children and to the credit of
themselves as fathers and mothers. Be it understood, also, that
these parents were not "preached to" about sending their children
to school. They were led into discussions of school attendance
among themselves and they arrived at their own conclusions.
(6) Evening Classes. — While making the community sur-
veys the teachers quietly learned also the number of adult illiterates
in their communities, though this information was obtained indi-
rectly, so as not to be embarrassing to anyone. When their reports
were brought together it was found that there were in all 45 adults
in the whole school district, who could not read and write. At
first it was thought best to organize night schools of the Kentucky
"Moonlight" type for these persons alone. But in talking with
the people at the community center meetings the supervisor and
teachers came to the conclusion that what would best meet the
educational needs of the whole adult population were evening
classes for any who would attend them. Accordingly announce-
ment was made at the community centers that at certain centers
evening classes would be offered one night each week in addition
to the regular community center meetings. These centers for
evening classes were so selected that the teachers of near-by schools
could assist the local teacher in this work — in effect a consolidation
of schools for evening classes. The plan was eminently successful.
The English subjects (reading, writing, spelling), arithmetic and
agriculture constituted the course of study, not the usual textbook
study, but just the things that the people were interested in learn-
136 The Annals of the American Academy
ing. Nothing was said about illiteracy, for that would have been
very embarrassing to those who had unfortunately failed to attend
schools when they were boys and girls. Any who could not read
and write joined the English classes and began at the very begin-
ning. They had individual instruction and, therefore, learned
The evening classes were in themselves community center
meetings: (a) because they brought together three or four neigh-
borhoods at one of the centers, thus enlarging the circle of acquaint-
ances ; (b) because the demonstration work in the agricultural sub-
jects attracted a great many who would have come out for no other
reason; and (c) because the class exercises were either preceded or
followed by a social half-hour, and in some cases followed by the
serving of refreshments provided by the families represented,
sometimes merely a basket of choice apples from one of the farms.
(7) Lecture Course. — Closely related to the work of the
evening classes was the lecture course. Now, when we speak of a
"lecture course," we usually think of a series of lectures and enter-
tainments given by persons brought into the community for that
purpose and paid by the sale of tickets of admission. The lecture
course in our rural district was a very different proposition. The
lectures were free. They were given at the schoolhouses by the
teachers of other schools in the district and by citizens of the com-
munity who had messages for the people. The subjects were of a
very practical nature, dealing with improvements of agriculture,
roads, schools, sanitation, morals. For information these lecturers
drew upon the United States Bureau of Education and the
United States Department of Agriculture, the State Agricultural
College, the State Department of Schools, and the Public Health
Council. Wherever possible, bulletins of information on these
subjects were handed to the people to be taken home with them.
These lectures were in reality community center meetings. The
teachers themselves benefited greatly from them by the preparation
they made for them.
(8) National Patriotism. — In view of the military strife
abroad the time was ripe for a revival of national patriotism among
the people. Accordingly, one of the programs at each of the com-
munity centers had national patriotism as its central theme. By a
little guidance upon the part of the teachers this program led to the
Rural School Community Center 137
placing of a flag upon every schoolhouse in the district. The people
themselves purchased the flags, cut and hauled the flag poles, and
observed "Flag Day" at the schoolhouses when the flags were
raised. This demonstration led later to the placing of a small flag
in each school room so that when "The Star Spangled Banner"
was sung, every child leaped to his feet and saluted his country's
flag — another factor of community improvement.
(9) School Libraries. — Another interesting outgrowth of the
community center work in this district was the raising of $282 for
school libraries. This amount was raised at box suppers, pie
socials, and public entertainments. Every school in the district
now has a small collection of books approved by the State Super-
intendent of Schools. In addition to the books purchased, the
teachers secured a large number of free bulletins upon subjects of
agriculture, roads, schools, and other subjects of interest to the
community. Here again the community center meetings were the
means of providing these school libraries.
(10) School Athletics. — As stated in the first paragraph of
this article there were in this school district three graded and
twelve one-teacher schools. The three graded schools were made
athletic centers, and to each were assigned four one-teacher schools.
At each of these three centers a baseball team was organized, the
players being chosen from among the pupils of the graded school,
and its allied four one-teacher schools. These three athletic centers
were then organized into a district school baseball league. One who
did not get information at first hand by observation could scarcely
conceive of the benefits derived from the baseball contests. The
baseball games were almost the only source of outdoor amusement
provided the people of the district. Rivalry among these three
athletic centers was keen, but yet wholesome. The activities of
the baseball league were a strong factor in the development of
community social capital. There were a good many boys who had
not been in school for two or three years, who enrolled now to play
baseball. But in his account of these baseball contests, the super-
visor says: "They (these older boys) stayed in school not only to
the end of the baseball season; they got a taste of books and have
been regular in attendance to the end of the year. Some who had
not been in school for over two years won their Free School Diplomas
this year and are planning to go to high school next year."
138 The Annals of the American Academy
(11) Good Roads. — In two or three places I have made men-
tion of roads. The subject of improved roads was discussed at
each of the community centers, that is, it was discussed by the
people themselves. Waste of time and money occasioned by the
bad condition of the roads of that district and the cost of improving
them were figured out, even mathematically, by the citizens at
these meetings. The crowning event of this notable year's work
was the voting of bonds in the sum of $250,000 to improve the roads
— a very large dividend paid on the social capital developed during
The reader may question the propriety of discussing such
subjects as community surveys, school attendance, evening classes,
and good roads in an article whose title is "The Rural School
Community Center." I will admit that they are subjects not
generally thought of in connection with community center work.
Nevertheless, I am firmly convinced that the supervisor and teach-
ers, whose achievements I have described, have struck bed-rock in
community building. It is not what they did for the people that
counts for most in what was achieved; it was what they led the
people to do for themselves that was really important. Tell the
people what they ought to do, and they will say in effect, "Mind
your own business." But help them to discover for themselves
what ought to be done and they will not be satisfied until it is
done. First the people must get together. Social capital must be
accumulated. Then community improvements may begin. The
more the people do for themselves the larger will community social
capital become, and the greater will be the dividends upon the
Nearing, The New Education, Chicago: Row, Peterson & Company.
Ward, The Social Center, New York: D. Appleton & Co.
Carney, Country Life and the Country School, Chicago: Row, Peterson & Com.
Field, The Corn Lady, Chicago: A. Flanagan & Company.
Social and Civic Work in Country. Bulletin No. 18. Department of Education,
Hanifan, A Handbook containing suggestions and programs for Community Social
Gatherings at Rural Schoolhouses.